Work Foundation: Hairdressers and celebrities show the pattern of modern life

Hairdressers, celebrities and management consultants are the most representative jobs of our time, according to The Work Foundation think-tank.

A research paper by the think-tank, Paradigm Trades: The Iconic Jobs of the Early 21st Century, claims that the pattern and nature of modern working life can be most clearly seen within hairdressers, celebrities, managers and management consultants.

Report author Stephen Overall said: “In the early twentieth century, it was obvious what we meant by the word ‘worker’ – most of us would point to the factory worker, the unionised, male proletarian who was the key figure of his time. Today, it is no longer so obvious.”

“Modern work is contradictory and complex. The idea behind a paradigm trade is that a few workers, doing very different types of work, act as representatives for the entire modern world of work. It is these workers more than any other that offer us spokespeople for what is going on at work and within our culture as a whole.”

The Work Foundation analysed principal working trends affecting work and identified which workers were most likely to personify these trends.

The paper argued that each paradigm worker is representative for different reasons.

Hairdressers, and other bodily improvers such as fitness trainers, are iconic because:

  • They represent how much work remains manual, physical and craft-related
  • They demonstrate the importance of social skills in work – how work has become talk
  • They prove how work has become “personal” and “aesthetic”
  • They show how the rhetoric of globalisation has been overplayed: personal services can never be offshored.

Management consultants are iconic because:

  • They show the power of the outsider
  • They are the archetypal knowledge worker
  • They stand for the pronounced love of change at large in modern work

Celebrities are iconic because:

  • They demonstrate how people are becoming their work
  • They showcase the aesthetic turn of modern work and modern life
  • They defy the notion of “productivity”

Managers are iconic because:

  • No other group is as big or rising so fast
  • They demonstrate the rising obsession with hierarchy and status
  • The character of the manager is at the centre of most of the fundamental moral dilemma of our times – the clash between morality and the market

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